Tuesday, July 13, 2010

'All the Way with LBJ'

  I can still remember the 1964 Presidential campaign slogan for Lyndon Johnson like it was yesterday though I was barely a teenager and politically uninterested at that. I think it's etched in my memory because of my profound and unfounded dislike of this 'accidental' president intensified surely by my Kennedy-loving and Kennedy-mourning parents. I mean, Irish-Catholic-easterner, young and handsome whose wife had an elegant name vs a lanky, awkward-looking, drawly southerner with a wife with a name that seemed laughable  - LBJ didn't stand a chance in my house on Long Island, New York! 
  As I grew older, I became curious about Johnson and wondered if I possibly had misjudged him. And my mother, as she grew older along with me, suprisingly admitted during a political discussion, that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the most masterful member of Congress there ever was. With President Kennedy long dead and her period of mourning over she allowed herself to speak of his successor admiringly, though she probably wished that Johnson remained in Congress instead of ascending to the White House. To be honest, though I can't be sure, she might have started praising him when she became eligible for Medicare!
  It was always on my to-do list to read a biography of Lyndon Johnson but I never did until coming across one recently in a bookstore in Manchester, Vermont. The book, pictured here, is by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian and someone I'm familiar with from watching the Sunday morning news shows. This book was first published in 1976 with the forward updated in 1991.  Ms. Goodwin (Ms. Kearns at the time) was an assistant to President Lyndon Johnson during the last year in the White House and later assisted Johnson with his memoirs. She had a close relationship with him during and after his presidency.
  As I started to read the book, I was struck by a couple of things: first, my mother was right - he was a master of Congress and secondly he tried very hard to be sensitive to the north easterners (like my family) and Americans in general who were devastated over the assassination of President Kennedy and who probably blamed Johnson in some unfounded  way for his death. 
  But truly, President Johnson's  list of accomplishments boggle the mind. Before the end of 1964, his administration yielded a major tax-cut (yes, you read that right .....from a democratic president) that was already passed by the House under President Kennedy (yes, you read that right again...another democrat!), a billion-dollar antipoverty program (The War on Poverty) and a much needed comprehensive civil rights bill. He let businessmen run their business recognizing that he'd benefit through taxes in the end. 

  From Fortune magazine in April of 1964:
" ....A large part of Johnson's success can be summed up by saying that he is the Democratic president who drew his party closest to the traditional Republican position of an active, effective government encouraging the development of a free enterprise economy. "

  Later that August, the Economic Opportunity Act became law paving the way for 'The Great Society' during his first elected presidential term. Medicare, Medicaid all came into being during his tenure. Unfortunately, the escalation of and our involvement in Vietnam did too..... and this ultimately became his undoing. 
  I'll leave the rest for you to read for I surely encourage you to find this book in the library, bookstore or online. If you do read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream
By Doris Kearns Goodwin
St. Martins Griffin, New York

In addition to being a skilled legislature, Lyndon Johnson had a colloquial way of expressing himself. Here are just a few!

  • A man can take a little bourbon without getting drunk, but if you hold his mouth open and pour in a quart, he's going to get sick on it. 
  • A man without a vote is man without protection. 
  • A President's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right. 
  • Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a good carpenter to build one. 
  • Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it. 
  • Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else. 
  • Doing what's right isn't the problem. It is knowing what's right. 
  • Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity. 
  • Every man has a right to a Saturday night bath. 
  • Freedom is not enough.
  • Greater love hath no man than to attend the Episcopal Church with his wife.  
  • I am a freeman, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat, in that order. 
  • I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world.  
  • I believe the destiny of your generation - and your nation - is a rendezvous with excellence. 
  • I believe we can continue the Great Society while we fight in Vietnam. 
  • I don't believe I'll ever get credit for anything I do in foreign affairs, no matter how successful it is, because I didn't go to Harvard.
  • I have learned that only two things are necessary to keep one's wife happy. First, let her think she's having her own way. And second, let her have it. 

Tomorrow: 'Targeting' the dollar table.

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